How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan

How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan
Since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have been deployed to Afghanistan in a war that has cost over $1 trillion and seen the loss of tens of thousands of Afghan lives. (AFP)
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Updated 10 August 2021

How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan

How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan
  • US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 with little understanding of a land long described as the “graveyard of empires”
  • Having failed to build a competent Afghan army to take its place, America’s exit from the country is proving just as chaotic as its arrival

ISLAMABAD: In many ways, the Doha agreement of February 2020 evoked memories of the US military’s humiliation in Vietnam half a century earlier.

The deal with the Taliban, which paved the way for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, was no less ignominious for Washington. It was not a document of surrender but neither was it a declaration of victory for the most powerful military power on earth.

US officials had negotiated peace with the very insurgent leaders they once branded terrorists. In fact, several members of the Taliban negotiating team were former inmates of the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Such is the irony of history: Yet another superpower began its drawdown just as the war-ravaged country observed the 32nd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal. The Russians departed in 1989 after a decade in the Afghan mire. The Americans remained twice as long. The last US soldier is expected to leave in the next few weeks, before the symbolic date of Sept. 11.

Several of the Taliban negotiators in Doha had also fought the Soviets — with US support. At the time they were hailed by Washington as “holy warriors” who drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan with weapons supplied by the Americans.

Indeed, the irony was again apparent when Taliban fighters turned many of those same weapons on their former patrons.

US forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, with little understanding of a land that has long been described as the “graveyard of empires.” It was an unwinnable conflict from the start but Washington fought tooth and nail to shape a narrative that would justify its continuance.

Quite how unprepared the Americans were was aptly summed up in 2015 by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who said: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing. What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

Put in these terms, it is perhaps unsurprising that Afghanistan would become America’s longest war.

The Taliban’s resurgence was helped by a strategic miscalculation on the part of Washington, which decided to reempower Afghanistan’s former strongmen and warlords, causing old ethnic and tribal tensions to resurface. One of the biggest US mistakes was a failure to avoid the perception that the West was a party to the Afghan civil war.

Despite the deployment of tens of thousands of troops, the US could not defeat the insurgents once and for all. However, the Taliban’s revival as a powerful insurgent force should not have come as a surprise. In fact, the group was never really defeated.

Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed during the war, which cost close to $1 trillion. Since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have been deployed to Afghanistan. The distorted statistics made it appear as though the US was winning the fight — but this was far from the truth.




US forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. (AFP)

There were also fundamental disagreements within successive US administrations over precisely what America’s objectives were in Afghanistan. While some officials believed they were building a model democracy, others saw their role as reinventors of Afghan culture, including its views on women’s rights.

America’s attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade did not work. Most of the US aid money was siphoned off by Afghan officials and warlords aligned with Washington, and the country devolved into a narco-state as a result of some seriously flawed policies.

Despite the billions of dollars spent on building and training the Afghan National Army and other branches of the security apparatus, local forces proved incapable of taking on the Taliban without American support.

Following the Doha agreement, it was left to the Taliban and the Afghan government to negotiate the future political setup of the country. It is certainly a tall order to expect the two warring sides to reach an arrangement that will satisfy all Afghan factions — a polarization that has only intensified over the past two decades of war and foreign occupation.




It was an unwinnable conflict from the start but Washington fought tooth and nail to shape a narrative that would justify its continuance. (AFP)

In addition the departure of the US forces has proven to be just as chaotic as their arrival. The hasty withdrawal has left a cavernous power vacuum.

The Taliban has leveraged the peace deal with the US to its advantage, while growing international recognition is giving the insurgents even greater confidence.

For many Afghans, however, the prospect of a return to Taliban rule is deeply disconcerting. Notwithstanding its solemn pledges, the Taliban has maintained a deliberate ambiguity about its political agenda, which is adding to the sense of confusion.

There were some indications that the ultraconservative Taliban might be willing to work within a pluralistic political system. Yet there was no clarity on whether the group would be willing to work within a democratic political and constitutional setup.

While the Taliban political leadership appears to be more moderate and flexible in its views, there is no evidence that the commanders in the field will be so amenable to change.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, it completely outlawed the right of women to education and work. The current leadership has offered assurances that it acknowledges the rights of women and will not oppose their education, but this has done little to quell the unease many people feel about potential Taliban action once foreign forces withdraw.

Decades of conflict have exacted a heavy toll on the lives of millions of Afghans and unleashed destruction that cannot be undone. The war has left the country as divided as ever. Through battlefield victories and expanding territorial control, the Taliban has gained the upper hand, creating a dangerous asymmetry of power. Many now fear the expansion of Taliban influence will lead to a resurgence of its tyrannical rule.

Regardless of who the adversary was at any given point in time, two generations of Afghans have known only war and it seems highly unlikely their misery will end any time soon.




Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Once the winter residence of sultans from illustrious Islamic dynasties, the ruins of a thousand-year-old royal city in southern Afghanistan has become home to hundreds of people who have fled Taliban clashes. (AFP)

Inevitably, the withdrawal of American forces from the country will have a huge effect on regional geopolitics. Historically, the country’s strategic geography has made it vulnerable to interference from outside powers and proxy wars.

A full-scale civil war could lead Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran to back different factions and themselves become more deeply involved in the conflict. The spillover effects of spiraling instability and conflict in Afghanistan could prove disastrous.

Without a sustainable agreement among surrounding powers that guarantees Afghanistan’s security and its neutrality, the country might become the center of a costly proxy war, with various powers supporting rival factions across ethnic and sectarian lines.

Such an agreement is also critical to prevent Afghanistan reverting to a hub for global terrorism. A negotiated political settlement, intertwined with a regional approach, is the only desirable endgame.


Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
Updated 6 sec ago

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
  • Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2
TAIPEI: A strong earthquake struck northeastern Taiwan on Sunday, with residents reporting violent shaking in the capital Taipei but there were no immediate reports of widespread damage.
Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2.
It hit northeastern Yilan county at 1:11 p.m. (0511 GMT) at a depth of 67 kilometers (42 miles).
An AFP reporter who lives in Yilan said the shaking seemed to last some 30 seconds.
“The walls of the house were shaking, both sideways and up and down, it felt quite strong,” the reporter said.
There was no damage in his neighborhood.
The main quake was followed by a 5.4-magnitude aftershock and Taipei’s MRT metro system shut down as a precaution for a little under an hour before service resumed.
Tom Parker, a British illustrator who lives in Taipei, said he was riding the subway when the quake hit.
“First time I’ve felt a quake on the MRT. Like a tame rollercoaster,” he tweeted, adding he and other commuters were told to shelter in place in the station for now.
Many others reported the tremor on social media.
“I was scared to death, I screamed in my room,” Yu Ting wrote on Facebook.
“This earthquake is really big, glass has shattered in my living room.”
Some grocery stores reported food and other goods were thrown from shelves by the shaking.
Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
Some earthquakes of this magnitude can prove deadly, although much depends on where the quake strikes and at what depth.
Hualien, a scenic tourist hotspot, was struck by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured nearly 300.
In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.
However, a 6.2 earthquake struck in December 2020 in Yilan with no major damage or injuries reported.

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
Updated 20 min 55 sec ago

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
  • Junta says it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the ASEAN
  • Myanmar leadership accuses ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference

Myanmar’s military rulers pledged on Sunday to cooperate “as much as possible” with a peace plan agreed with ASEAN, despite a stern rebuke of the regional bloc for excluding the country’s top commander from a summit this week.
In an announcement in state media on Sunday, the junta said it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in following a five-point “consensus” agreed in April, a plan backed by the West and China.
ASEAN foreign ministers decided on Oct. 15 to sideline Min Aung Hlaing, leader of a Feb. 1 Myanmar coup, for his failure to implement that plan, which included ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support and granting a special envoy full access in the country.
The junta struck back late on Friday, accusing ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference. It refused to agree to send a politically neutral Myanmar representative instead of Min Aung Hlaing.
ASEAN chair Brunei has not responded to Myanmar’s rejection.
A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Saturday, citing the sensitivity of the matter, while Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, said ASEAN’s consensus on who would represent Myanmar at the summit was the “common guide for all ASEAN members.”
The exclusion is an unprecedented snub from a bloc long criticized for being tardy and ineffective at dealing with member governments accused of atrocities.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in a post-coup crackdown in Myanmar, with thousands more detained, many tortured or beaten, according to the United Nations, citing activists. The junta is accused of using excessive military force against civilian populations.
The junta has insisted many of those killed or detained were “terrorists” determined to destabilize the country. The junta chief last week said opposition forces were prolonging the unrest.
ASEAN’s special envoy, Erywan Yusof of Brunei, had sought a meeting with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military government said that was impossible because she was detained and charged with crimes.
The junta warned Erywan not to engage with opposition forces it has outlawed, including the shadow National Unity Government, an alliance of pro-democracy and armed ethnic groups, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, citing an unpublished report.
A Myanmar military spokesman and Erywan’s office did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment on Sunday on the reported warning.
In Sunday’s announcement, Myanmar’s rulers first reaffirmed their own five-point plan for restoring democracy, which they announced after the coup.
The military insists it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and its takeover was not a coup, but a necessary and lawful intervention against a threat to sovereignty posed by Suu Kyi’s party, which it said won a fraudulent election last year.


US urges North Korea to stop missile tests

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests
Updated 24 October 2021

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests
  • Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of recent weapons tests by Pyongyang

SEOUL: The US on Sunday urged North Korea to stop “counterproductive” missile tests, but expressed hope Pyongyang would respond positively to Washington’s call for dialogue.
It comes after North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Tuesday, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
US special representative on North Korea Sung Kim met his southern counterpart Noh Kyu-duk after a meeting with their Japanese counterpart in Washington.
He labelled Tuesday’s launch a “provocation,” and urged Pyongyang to stop “concerning and counterproductive” missile tests.
“We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach,” Kim told reporters in Seoul, using the acronyms of North Korea’s official same.
Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of recent weapons tests by the country, including a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and what it said was a hypersonic warhead.
Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blamed the United States for sanctions, dismissing Washington’s assertions that it does not have hostile intentions.
Kim met three times with former president Donald Trump, who boasted of stopping a war but failed to reach a comprehensive agreement on ending the country’s nuclear program.
President Joe Biden has promised to keep seeking diplomacy but with a more low-key approach.


Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears
Updated 24 October 2021

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears
  • Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured nearly nine months of stay-at-home restrictions

MELBOURNE: Melbourne, the world’s most locked-down city that emerged from its latest spate of COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, will see more curbs eased next week when Victoria state reaches an 80 percent full vaccination rate, officials said on Sunday.
Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of stay-at-home restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires.
Starting on Friday, when 80 percent of people across Victoria — of which Melbourne is the capital — are expected to be fully vaccinated, Melburnians will be free to travel throughout the state and masks will no longer be required outdoors.
“There’s a fundamental agreement that we have reached with the Victorian community, we asked you to get vaccinated, you have done that in record time and record numbers,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
With a once-sputtering vaccine rollout now at full speed, authorities across Australia no longer plan to rely on extended lockdowns to suppress the virus. Victoria recorded 1,935 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Sunday.
As the state moves toward a “vaccinated economy” in which only fully inoculated people will be allowed into venues, a 90 percent percent rate is expected around Nov. 24, Andrews said.
He added that he wanted to see crowds in excess of 80,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Boxing Day Test on Dec. 26 between Australia and England.
“It’s our approach to try and achieve life as close to normal as possible,” Andrews said.
Australians overwhelmingly support vaccinations, with research by the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne, showing in October that only 6.9 percent of the population were unwilling to be inoculated.
New South Wales state, whose capital Sydney spent 100 days in a lockdown that ended earlier this month, recorded 296 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths. Nearly 85 percent of the state’s population have been fully vaccinated.
New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the virus through vaccinations, had 80 cases on Sunday, all in the North Island. On Saturday, it reported a first COVID-19 infection in nearly a year in the country’s South Island.


Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing

Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing
Updated 24 October 2021

Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing

Trapped in ‘cruel’ forest, migrant regrets Belarus-EU crossing
  • The EU suspects Belarus is masterminding the unprecedented influx of migrants into Poland as a form of retaliation against EU sanctions

KLESZCZELE, Belarus: Exhausted and trapped in a cold, “cruel” forest, Lebanese barber Ali Abd Alwareth said he regretted his week-long bid to enter the European Union via the Belarus-Poland border.

“It’s miserable. Something that you don’t wish for your worst enemy ... A nightmare,” the soft-spoken 24-year-old with Crohn’s disease told AFP.

Sitting cross-legged on a bed of pine needles and dead leaves near the border town of Kleszczele in eastern Poland, Abd Alwareth described being a ping-pong ball for the guards.

“I tried crossing like five, six times, and every time I got caught and deported back to the border” by Poland, he said in English.

The Belarusian side meanwhile refused to let him return to Minsk to fly home.

Abd Alwareth said security forces told him: “You have only two choices: either you die here or you die in Poland. That’s it.”

One of thousands of migrants — mostly from the Middle East — who have tried to penetrate the 400-km border since August, Abd Alwareth said he left the financial crisis in Lebanon in search of a better life.

The whole journey from his home region of Bekaa cost $4,000 and involved help from a Minsk-based company he found on social media.

The EU suspects Belarus is masterminding the unprecedented influx of migrants into Poland as a form of retaliation against EU sanctions, but the regime has put the blame on the West.

Poland has sent thousands of troops, built a razor-wire fence and implemented a three-month state of emergency that bans journalists and charity workers along the immediate border area.

During his grueling time in the woods, Abd Alwareth said he drank water off of leaves, was too cold to sleep, and was once hit on the head by either the Polish army or police.

Though “exhausted” and “devastated,” he said he understood that the border guards “are doing their job. They are protecting their country. We are illegal.”

On Friday, Abd Alwareth and his Syrian walking companions managed to get in touch with Polish activists, who met them in the forest with warm clothes and food as well as offering support when the guards arrived.

His fate up in the air, Abd Alwareth hopes to receive asylum in Poland — or at the very least, to return to Lebanon.

“Okay, you don’t want me here, you don’t want me in Belarus. Just deport me back home. That’s all I’m asking for,” he said.

“What is happening in the forest is cruel ... I feel like a puppet. It was my decision, I came this way -- but not to be treated like this,” he added.

“I refuse to die at the border. I just want to see my mum.”